Most Successful Business in Kenya: I was banker with two leading local banks for twelve years before I abandoned the industry in August 2013 to go into full-time business with my husband, Jean Paul Mambo (JP).

JP had started a carpentry and interiors business, Mambo Interiors, in August 2008 after quitting his banking job and the business was now doing well.

“However, like many other small and medium-sized enterprises, Mambo Interiors did not maintain proper books of accounts, and hadn’t contracted the services of a professional accountant to do so.

Many such businesses are profitable but the owners cannot tell you which products contribute to the highest profit margins or even where those profits go. The business needed me to plug this hole and though I am not a certified accountant, my passion for numbers made me just the right person for the job.

“Around the time when I made the decision to quit my job, I was also feeling dissatisfied with my management position at the bank. However, the decision to quit to pursue what my heart desired was not a new one.

I had first quit in November 2011, but my decision at the time was an emotional one, driven partly by postpartum depression and the desire to be a stay-at-home mum to raise my two children.

“At that time, I didn’t have a plan regarding how I was going to make money. But the second time I quit, I had everything planned to the last letter: the month when I would leave the bank, whether Mambo Interiors needed me and what they needed me for, and whether they could afford me.

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Even before I entered into partnership with my husband, I took time every Saturday (my day off away from my job at the bank) to update the business’s weekly records.

After that I would sit with customers to discuss their ideas and designs, colour schemes and fabrics until nightfall. I came alive during these few hours and at the end of every Saturday, one thought would cross my mind: I can’t wait to get back here next Saturday.

“These Saturdays at the workshop made me realise that the reason why my banking job wasn’t fulfilling was because I was selling a product that I neither believed in nor was passionate about. My strong entrepreneurial spirit and passion for colours was not getting an outlet at the bank and this strengthened my resolve to quit and join my husband in business.

“My other reason for taking the plunge was that although the business was growing, the internal processes were not well-managed and I was coming in to change that.

There was no plan to the way things were being done: how materials were procured, how customers’ orders were prioritised, how products were priced and how work was scheduled. And at the end of the month, there was all this cash tied up in half-finished orders that were not translating into revenue.

“Also, although JP is excellent at sketching and turning ideas into art, he isn’t very good at maintaining customer relations. So while my husband focused on the core of the business, I would focus on the administrative and marketing side of it.

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To cap it all, the time and effort I was dedicating to the business (every Saturday) was nurturing it. With my input the business started to make so much more money than we had anticipated for that year.

“These factors gave me the conviction that this was the right time to dive in. Close friends and family worried whether the business would be enough to sustain our family. Understandably so , as only a person who is already in business can support your decision to leave a salaried job. In August 2013, I left the banking industry to manage Mambo Interiors.

“The first challenge I encountered was how to balance motherhood with managing the business. One always imagines that when you get into business you will have more time for your family. But this is not the case; I worked longer hours managing the business than when I was working at the bank. I met our clients during hours I would ordinarily have spent with my kids.

Marketing strategy

On the ground, marketing the business was another challenge. The size and nature of our business means we have to be ingenious about our marketing strategy: Kenyans don’t shop for furniture online; they want to see and feel the products before buying.

“The business had thus far grown mostly through referrals, and through targeted advertising, but that was not enough. Tapping into the market on social media and expanding our showroom beyond the workshop is ongoing.

“Moving from the banking industry into a manufacturing outfit meant I had to do plenty of reading, learn about the products and the materials that go into each and about what the machines are used for, and how each works.

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The learning process was a lengthy one that begged for a completely different mindset from the one I had before.

“Navigating these challenges is a work in progress. I am barely a year in, and the heart I have put into the business shows in the strides we are making. I am happy that I now have the best of both worlds – I am not only managing a business with my husband, but also making use of my passion for entrepreneurship, colours and interiors while at it.”

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